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"Make it an SGA worth caring"
Chris Otts
The Crimson White
March 10, 2005

As I trudged across campus Monday, I saw something I just couldn't help laughing at.

It was between classes, and only a few folks were around the corner of Sorority Row and University Boulevard. Yet there was a girl standing on the steps of Reese Phifer, without an umbrella in the cold, steady rain, brandishing a sign that read, "Carroll 4 SGA president."

I didn't mean to make fun of this girl - I felt bad for her - but the absurdity of the situation prompted me to chuckle and shake my head.

Who put her up to this? How in the world is it worth it to make yourself a miserable statue in the cold rain just so four or five more people might be reminded of Carroll's candidacy?

Around this time each year, greeks are blanketing the campus with chalk, fliers and whatever you call that stuff they put on their windshields, advertising for the Machine candidates.

If you didn't know anything about the University, you'd think these SGA elections were heated contests in which every chalking had the potential to propel a candidate to a slim victory.

Yet on election day, who votes? Machine greeks and a few hundred of the more than 15,000 other students. Machine slate wins. You can count on it like clockwork almost every year.

Some people say the difference between independents and greeks is that greeks care about stuff, and lazy independents don't. If the indies would get off their butts, they'd get whatever they wanted. Their loss, right?

Well, that's true, but the issue is a little more complicated.

First, who really cares about the SGA? If you think about it, I bet you can boil it down to about 50 students: some of the people in SGA, the candidates, the two Machine representatives from every house who make cheat sheets so the rest of their people can remember who to vote for, some of us at The CW and a few involved independents.

Bottom line: Average greeks and independents - in other words, regular students - do not care. That's a problem.

We tend to ask ourselves what our low voter turnout says about our students, but the better question is, what does our lack of turnout say about the SGA?

The fact that so few people take the extra minute to vote says the SGA has no direct impact on average students' lives, or at least students don't think it does.

Therein, Zac Riddle or Mary Margaret Carroll, lies your challenge: How can you make the SGA have some substantial impact on average students?

It takes more than resolutions for clocks on the Quad or polls about fall break. SGA representatives need to get results. They need to prove they can address students' concerns with practical ideas and effect real changes. 2003-04 President Katie Boyd, for example, didn't waste time gauging student opinion about a fall break; she lobbied UA President Robert Witt and convinced him that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving needed to be a holiday, and now we have that luxury.

The SGA also needs to be a more inclusive organization, one that reaches across campus to get involved with student organizations, whose members will in turn get involved in SGA events.

Unfortunately, most people still view the SGA as a country club for greeks. Committees, for example, are run like honor societies, with restricted membership and applications that consider experience and GPAs. SGA committees are service organizations; if people want to get involved, it's ludicrous to turn them away, regardless of their GPAs.

Both Riddle and Carroll recognize the SGA's country club syndrome, which makes me optimistic for next year's SGA. Carroll hits the nail right on the head when she says the SGA needs to take itself less seriously and start having fun like all the other student organizations. Her idea for an SGA attitude change could make the SGA less intimidating and more enticing to average students.

Riddle, because of his experience, is already familiar with nearly every student organization on campus, and he plans to bring talented people who before might have had reservations about getting involved in the SGA into the fold.

Whoever is elected, the mandate is clear: Make it an SGA worth caring about.

Chris Otts is news director for The Crimson White. His column appears every other Thursday.